The six-month study, published by Computers in Human Behaviour (Science Direct), focussed on students aged 12-13 and their use of technology, including ‘avatars’ or computer-generated images of themselves, to resolve potential conflict at school.
Key findings include the revelation that students using software which incorporates the latest gesture and facial recognition technology feel more positive towards other students. Specifically, students using avatars like and trust their partner significantly more. They are also able to produce better ideas to alleviate bullying issues.
Prior to the study, avatar-mediated communication was believed to be less effective than video-mediated communication. However, newer technologies, which have developed avatars that respond to facial and gesture cues, can improve social interaction. Avatar technology is of particular interest for tackling bullying issues because of its ability to protect users’ anonymity.
The research team was led by Dr Jim Ang and Ania Bobrowicz from the University’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts. They worked in collaboration with Kent Integrated Youth Service and Project Salus, with students from Borden Grammar School (Sittingbourne), the Archbishop’s School (Canterbury) and St Anselm’s Roman Catholic School (Canterbury).
Dr Ang, Lecturer in Multimedia and Digital Systems, said: ‘Advances in avatar technology have great potential to transform the way we connect and empathise with each other using computers. And, as our research has shown, it’s an excellent platform to help young people, who are very comfortable with all forms of technology, to resolve conflict in schools.’
Ania Bobrowicz, Senior Lecturer in Digital Arts, added: ‘It was exciting to see the enthusiasm with which the students embraced our project. We are planning to take the findings from the project into the next stage to investigate the effectiveness of using avatar technology with pupils with social interaction and learning difficulties in mainstream education.’
‘Effects of gesture-based avatar-mediated communication on brainstorming and negotiation tasks among younger users’ (Chee Siang Ang, Ania Bobrowicz, Panote Siriaraya, Joshua Trickey, Kate Winspear) can be viewed at: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563212002816